Sportsliners haven’t lost heart

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Although about half of them no longer work for the TV station, most of the CHCH Sportsliners will be back to play the Wine Guys in a fundraising event at the Meridian Credit Union Arena Saturday, Jan. 30. It’s a fundraiser for the NOTL Kinsmen.

Although about half of them no longer work for the TV station, most of the CHCH Sportsliners will be back to play the Wine Guys in a fundraising event at the Meridian Credit Union Arena Saturday, Jan. 30. It’s a fundraiser for the NOTL Kinsmen.

The fifth annual Niagara Winter Classic on-ice competition will go ahead, and may mean more than ever this year, says Bill Brouwer, a former cameraman for CHCH.


It’s an event held in Niagara-on-the-Lake to raise money for charity and allocate bragging rights to either the CHCH Sportsliners or the Wine Guys.

But in December, the company that created local news for CHCH TV – Channel 11 L.P. – filed for bankruptcy. An announcement was made that the Hamilton-based television station was undergoing restructuring that would mean job cuts and reduced local programming.

The cuts were abrupt, and more than half the staff laid off. It came completely out of left field, said Brouwer.

“We had no warning at all, with absolutely no indication that things were not going well. We’ve been bought out before, and in the past, we could see the signs, but this time, there were no signs at all.”

Full and part-time employees were let go, some with more than 30 years at the station, said Brouwer.

About half were offered positions from a separate company with a new contract to provide CHCH with local news.

Brouwer says he was one of the lucky ones - although he lost a percentage of his pension when Channel Zero took over CHCH from CanWest and company pension contributions stopped, he continued to work on contract after he retired.

CHCH, he said, “has been around for about 60 years or longer, and I’ve been part of it for 42 years. I can remember when it was black and white. I was hired as a prop guy - a gofer. I wanted to be a camera man, so I kept my nose clean, worked hard, and it took a while but I got there, and I loved every second of it. I’ve worked with most, if not all of the people who were let go.”

Former employees may be angry about their treatment, but it’s not stopping them from continuing their Sportsliners charity work.

“We used to play three events a year, and we will continue to this year. I wasn’t sure when the NOTL Kinsmen called and said, ‘we’re in if you’re in,’ and the Wine Guys said ‘we’re in if you can field a team.’ It turns out everyone was in. It was so heart-warming for me to see people so eager to jump on board again.”

The NOTL Kinsmen organize the event in NOTL as a fundraiser for their club.

The Wine Guys, a group of winemakers from across Niagara, won the first game against CHCH four years ago - Brouwer says they took it easy on them for their first outing - and the Sportsliners won the next two. The rubber match was intended to be the final on-ice get-together, but the need for bragging rights and to continue supporting the Kinsmen prompted a fourth match, raising $2,000 for the service club and its international cause, cystic fibrosis, and evening the score at two games apiece.

It’s a popular event for spectators, a lot of fun for the players and a great fundraiser, and the Sportsliners didn’t want to give up, said Brouwer.

Popular on-air news personality Scot Urquhart, who is no longer employed at CHCH, explained on Facebook why he will continue to play on the team, with about half its members still working and half let go from the station.

“I bear no ill-will toward the colour burst logo, it represents what was arguably the greatest independent television station in Canadian history,” said Urquhart.

“CHCH doesn’t belong to the owners --- it belongs to thousands of incredibly loyal viewers who have a proprietary belief that it is their television station. The various “owners” are just caretakers of a community icon that is unique in broadcasting, and I’m proud to say that I spent most of my adult working life playing a part in something so rare and special. If I’m there to pull on the black jersey (for Sportsliners) one more time, I won’t be doing it for Channel Zero, I’ll be doing it to honour the viewers that made me a valued part of their everyday life.”

Nick Dixon, a well-known news anchor and producer at CHCH, is still on the air. He will be playing for the first time. He has been MC of the event, said Brouwer, but this year is his first taking to the ice against the Wine Guys - this match is expected to be about solidarity and friendship for the Sportsliners, he says.

“Everyone said they wanted to keep it going. We’re all family,” said Brouwer.

“The general mood is that all CHCH employees and former employees are members of a proud community. There is a proud affiliation with CHCH and this is part of it. This is an opportunity for us to stand up and say we’re not in a battle with CHCH.”

Joe Pillitteri will chair the event, which has created a strong bond between the Sportsliners and the Wine Guys over the years, says Brouwer.

This year’s game will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil, with raffles, wine, and free admission.


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